William McKinley Branch was the nation’s first black probate judge. His journey started in the 1960’s, when he was spiritually led back to Alabama from Illinois, despite his offers to pastor churches on the east coast. Branch landed at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Forkland. He served as pastor for over 60 years.
With a law degree, Branch was still heavy in civil rights work. In March 1968, William Branch was responsible for driving Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Eutaw to Greensboro to take part in a voting rights march. It would be the last time he would see Dr. King before he was killed three weeks later.
William McKinley Branch is a native of Forkland, Alabama. He attended the segregated Greene County Training School then earned a theology degree from Selma University. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s of Science from Alabama State then moved on to University of Illinois to obtain his law degree.
For 18 years, Branch served as Green County Probate Judge. He worked under Governor George Wallace, a known segregationist. Ironically, Branch was a member of the National Democratic Party of Alabama, a group who openly opposed the views of Governor Wallace.
He met with a number of presidents during his tenure, from JFK to Former President Bill Clinton. William McKinley Branch passed away this week at age 95. He and his wife, Alberta Carpenter Branch, were still married after 70 years.
There is a photo of Judge Branch that now hangs inside the Green County Courthouse.